Thursday, June 15, 2017

Margaret Abbott - unsuspecting Olympian

Imagine you're a wealthy young woman from Chicago who has traveled to Paris with your mother in order to take art lessons from the greats -- Dumas and Rodin -- and while you're there you join a golfing competition with some other wealthy white women for kicks. You win, accept a beautiful porcelain bowl, return to your studies, and live the rest of your life totally unaware that you're the first American woman to win an Olympic event.

That's exactly what happened to Margaret Abbott (June 15, 1878 – June 10, 1955). She was only 22 when she and her mother went to Paris. She had no idea that golf match competition was part of the 1900 Olympic Games, nor that by winning she was making history.

Actually, no one really knew until 1996 when University of Florida professor Paula Welch, who taught sports history tracked down the details of that year's Olympics -- a challenging bit of detective work as the Paris Games were so poorly organized, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) didn't officially add her golf match or other competitions to the list of Olympic matches until after the fact.

Thankfully because of Professor Welch's research, we now know that Margaret Abbott is the first official American woman Olympic winner.

The 1900 Paris Olympic Games was the first time women's sports were included in the official record. The IOC president as well as many other people were opposed to allowing women to compete, but the French Organizing Committee set up events, over the course of six months, for them anyway. It wasn't until later that year that the IOC approved some of the matches -- those that were considered more lady-like like yachting, tennis, and golf.

On October 3, 1900, Margaret Abbott, and her mother Mary Abbott, played in a tournament of 9 holes, where Margaret came in first with a score of 47, and her mother tied for seventh place. In fact, this is the only time in the history of modern Olympics where a mother and daughter both participated in the same event.

So I guess that means she made history twice that day.

To read more about her competition and the 1900 Olympics at Women Golfers Museum.

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